Breathing in and out every day can do more than just help you relax. Here’s what you need to know about how a meditation practice can improve your physical and mental health.
Photo by Sage Friedman on Unsplash
Meditation was once thought of as a spiritual practice, something many high-powered, super-focused, extremely busy people would think of and maybe say, “I don’t have time for that.” However, as meditation became more mainstream, earning its place as a status symbol along with green juice and Starbucks cups, it’s slowly become a pinnacle of performance.
Meditation is now a must-have weapon in one’s health arsenal, as it can positively affect mental health, physical health, and athletic performance. Even Michael Jordan meditated with his fellow Chicago Bulls in the 1990s (thanks to Phil Jackson’s coaching style). But how does it work? How do sitting and breathing help anything? Well, first it’s important to understand that meditation isn’t just sitting and breathing.
Meditation is a mind-body practice, most often connected to Buddhist traditions but adapted for application throughout other societies and cultures. There are many different kinds of meditation practices, like transcendental meditation (a twice-daily practice), mantra meditation (dedicated to repeating a mantra), chakra meditation (focused on aligning the body’s chakras), sound bath meditation (using bowls and gongs to stay relaxed) and more.
One of the most popular forms of meditation is mindfulness meditation, which is a practice related to being present in the moment and carrying the ability to be present throughout the day, especially during difficult situations. Mindfulness meditation is the one you’ll most likely encounter in popular apps and in fitness and wellness classes.
More than 8,000 pages of research have been published on how meditation can help with various health factors. This can make things tricky, as there’s seemingly research on how meditation can help nearly any ailment. But meditation is not a cure-all. More conclusive research is needed on all the ways meditation can help with our health, but for now, three large areas of focus have enough data to support efficacy: anxiety, depression, and pain.
Some studies show that meditation is able to stop the rumination on negative thoughts that contribute to depression while also disrupting negative thought patterns that trigger anxiety. And in one analysis on pain and meditation, research showed that meditation affected how people coped with pain more than how they felt pain.
Imagine if you felt more focused during a work meeting, less anxious while running a 5K or trying something new, or more capable of coping with an old injury while taking a walk around in the park? These aren’t the only things that meditation can do for our health, either. If stress is reduced, then so too could be blood pressure, heart rate, GI issues, disrupted sleep, and more. Researchers are excited about this new place of research for how else meditation can help people’s health.
But you might be wondering how to make use of all these potential benefits, where to start? Apps and YouTube videos provide free, guided meditations that make it easy to get started. Getting started is the easy part, though. It’s sticking to the practice that helps you benefit. Thinking of meditation as part of your regular routine will help you cement it as such. Couple the practice with something you’d never skip, like brushing your teeth before bed or drinking coffee in the morning. If you wouldn’t start or end your day without doing one of those things, then don’t start or end your day without meditating, too.
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